Immediately, there were snide remarks about how bad the music of the '70s was. These eventually gave way to more philosophical questions. Had the music really been that bad at the time, and we just hadn't noticed? Or had reality somehow shifted while we weren't watching?
The truth turns out to be both more subtle and more mundane. It occurred to me one day when the '70s station played a promo. The promo was a montage of songs from 1973, with a voice-over that announced: "1973: You were there!"
It worked: on a very visceral level, it transported me back to 1973. When I returned to the present, I was struck by how bad all of the songs in the montage were. It included Little Willy, and Stuck in the Middle With You, and 5 or 6 other equally forgettable songs from that year.
What was especially discrepant for me is that I have always remembered 1973 as a year when some of the best rock music of that era was released. I surfed over to the All-Music Guide, and here's what I found:
|Allman Brothers||Brothers and Sisters||Jessica|
|David Bowie||Alladin Sane||Panic in Detroit|
|Jackson Browne||For Everyman||Take It Easy|
|Deep Purple||Who Do We Think We Are||Woman from Tokyo|
|Doobie Brothers||Captain & Me||China Grove|
|Emerson, Lake & Palmer||Brain Salad Surgery||Karn Evil Nine|
|Fleetwood Mac||Mystery to Me||Hypnotized|
|Billy Joel||Piano Man||Piano Man|
|Elton John||Goodbye, Yellow Brick Road||Funeral For A Friend/Love Lies Bleeding|
|Led Zeppelin||Led Zeppein IV (ZoSo)||Stairway to Heaven|
|Lynyrd Skynyrd||Pronounced Leh-Nerd Skin-Nerd||Freebird|
|Pink Floyd||The Dark Side of the Moon|
|The Rolling Stones||Goats Head Soup||Angie|
|Bruce Springsteen||Greetings from Asbury Park NJ||Blinded by the Light|
|Steely Dan||Countdown to Ecstasy||My Old School|
|The Who||Quadrophenia||Love, Reign O'er Me|
With all this to choose from, it seems astonishing that the '70s station can't find anything better than Little Willy by which to remember 1973.
But that's just the problem. It's only the forgettable music--the forgotten music--that has the power to evoke an earlier time. In order to take you back to the '70s, it is not sufficient for a song to be of the '70s; it must be only of the '70s. Only then can it be uniquely associated in your mind with the time when it was first played.
Good music from the '70s isn't particularly remembered as '70s music, any more than Handel's Messiah is remembered as '40s music. Good music comes to be associated with the entire span of time during which it is played.
I'm not claiming that the albums listed above are timeless, but all of them--all of them--survived the '70s. Some are still being played today. And because their currency extended beyond 1973, the '70s station can't use them as markers of that year.
That's why the '70s station plays such bad music.
Little Willy, Willy won't GO HOME,
But you can't push Willy 'round; Willy won't go.
Try telling everybody but, oh, no:
Little Willy, Willy won't GO HOME.